Seven key steps to gamification of learning

By Carole Bower March 08, 2016

Graphic to illustrate the concept of gamification of learningAccording to the Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015, 62% of adults aged 16-44 play games; up from 48% in 2007. Modern day learners clearly have an appetite for games. And learning professionals seem keen to exploit that appetite.

Gamification of learning is everywhere at the moment. In the last month alone, we at Lumesse have worked on at least five different ‘gamified’ bespoke elearning content solutions. The Learning Technologies exhibition this year was abuzz with the term.

But while it is great to see the industry adoping these powerful techniques to boost learner engagement, looking around we often see solutions presented that make a few nods in the direction of gamification, but which fail to tap into its real power to boost learner engagement and motivation.

So in this blog, I’m going to lay out the key elements of gamified learning, using the STARFISH acronym (yes, you knew there’d be an acronym, didn’t you!) so you can be sure your gamified learning solution is really hitting the mark.

Firstly, it is worth looking at why there is so much interest in gamification at the moment, because this gives the reason for why you need to make sure your gamified programme is not just a tick in the gamification box.

It is true that there is a great deal of hype in our industry about gamification at the moment, but that has been the case for some while, and it is only now that we are seeing real adoption. Hype alone cannot be responsible for all this activity, and our best guess is that it is a reaction to the need to drive better adoption of digital learning and increase learner satisfaction levels.

Ultimately, the real driver here is the needs of learners.

Learner voice

At Lumesse we think a lot about learner-centred content and using learner insights to drive our solutions. The learner’s voice is being well and truly heard now. Learners no longer accept what they are given, and wait to be sent on a course or pushed out some digital content. They have become used to finding answers for themselves; to interacting with technology and learning through exploration.

This leads them to a heightened awareness of what they want, when they want it and what format they want it to be in. We need to think of them as consumers, not just as passive recipients for whatever we choose to push their way.

We are aware that they never liked long, page-turning elearning, and we can understand that they want something that has an element of fun in it; something to keep them enagaged. Enagement is the crucial point here; crucial, that is, to the benefits that can come from a gamified approach.

Benefits of Gamification                

Without engagement, there is no learning, and ultimately, no behaviour change. Gamified learning content, if all the normal elements of good learning design are applied, can offer the user a much more engaging learning experience.

Too often, your learners will turn to a learning programme from the thing that really interests them – their work – with something of an inward groan (sometimes even an audible one!) but gamification gives the chance to reverse that dynamic. Gamified learning can offer a fun and more interesting interface compared to the other business systems that fill the working day. It can challenge them, offer immediate feedback and competitive elements. And as an added bonus, it can be applied to pretty much any type of subject.

So here are the key steps you need to follow in order to gamify effectively … and that acronym I promised.

The STARFISH approach to gamification

Here is a useful mnemonic to use as a checklist. Let’s look at the key elements for creating gamified learning.

  • The Story. The learning will have a clear objective presented as a story or a challenge. For instance, your task/challenge is to…. This story will remain throughout the content.
  • Tokens and Awards. The programme offers learners a visual token or provides them with and ultimate award based on their achievement. These include ratings, rankings, badges and even unlocking of the next level.
  • Rules. Rules of play are applied to the programme so it is clear to the learner how they will be rewarded and penalised based on their performance.
  • Feedback. Learners need constant reinforcement around how well they are doing. This can be in the format of target feedback on tasks completed and through the tokens and scores awarded.
  • Interface. A game-based interface is key to intriguing and engaging learners. Visual rewards are important too.
  • Scoring. This is key to gamification. Individual or collective scores are displayed on screen or on leader boards. Working and competing in teams can spur learners on to improve their own performance.
  • Hook. This is about ensuring the approach used is addictive enough for learners to want to come back. The programme will need to have just the right level of difficulty to encourage the player to conquer the objective. They should also be encouraged to improve their score, their time or even their ranking in the leader board.

While you might not need to include all these elements creating gamified learning is likely to inlcude most of these to ensure there is a point to the game. Just using a game-based metaphor on its own is less likely to create that dopamine loop!

Pitfalls to watch out for

It’s worth bearing in mind that although the average adult is using games for recreation and we see an appetite from them to have gamified content, creating a piece of learning with game aspects is clearly not the same as creating a game. Learning and Development budgets will rarely allow for a full game to be developed that is on a par with a commerical game. Users can therefore become frustrated by being presented with game style elements but no actual game and this can be seen as irritating. If your gamified programme comes on like the latest shoot-em-up, but in reality offers nothing more than a different way of navigating through the content, there is a strong chance it will be perceived as contrived. There needs to be sufficient amount of reward and risk that the user is engaged with in solving a clearly defined and compelling challenge.

There might need to be a layer of complexity to the game which might involve randomising the dice, increased banks of questions, etc. We need to apply logic and thought to get the balance right between using game elements to make the programme visually appealing and using game elements to get the learner through the content. Our approach at Lumesse would be to go through the checklist of features above and validate the appropriateness of all the approaches you are using. Don’t just use the game elements as eye candy, ensure they are motivational tecniques that allow the learner to learn.

Remember, the key thing is that the learner is engaged – so you need to ensure there is sufficient reward mechanism in place to drive that engagement.

At Lumesse we always keep the learner at the heart of what we do, so if creating content in a ‘gamey way’ is going to enhance the learner experience and create the engagement that is needed for learning to take place, then we’re in the game!

We’re proud of the gamified learning we’ve worked on – and of course we’d love to show you some and chat through your needs.

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